News & Runway

Fashion History: High Tech Fabric


Each season we see an increasing influence of fabric technology on the design process, as well as the finished look of garments.  How a fabric reflects light, stretches, absorbs moisture, and to what extent it can have contrasting textured threads (like metal or plastic) woven into it, or embellishments added by computer, have all had a huge impact on aesthetics and price.

Advances in technology have proven to be great tools for designers. While Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan may be contemporary fashion’s best examples of avant garde use of technology, we can look back to the early 1990s and see a number of modern developments that originated with Japanese fashion designers.

One of the most notable Japanese designers when it comes to incorporating high tech into the design process is Issey Miyake. Miyake considers fabric—whether natural or synthetic—to be essential to the finished look of his work. Molded garments, permanent pleating using heat processes, and laser cutting all made their way into the designer’s collection back in the 90s. Miyake’s affinity for simple silhouettes allowed his fabric choices and technical skills shine—particularly in Pleats Please, a collection first shown in 1993.
The pieces in the collection were made using a thermoplastic polyester jersey to create permanent heat-set pleats.  This made for inherently flexible clothing and accessories that not only looked beautiful, but were also wearable.  They could easily be dressed-up or down with a simple switch of accessories.
While Miyake may be a particularly notable leader with his high-tech incorporations in the 90s, he is far from the only one. Miuccia Prada embroidered shirts made of latex, and used mirrors instead of sequins. Donna Karan used non-rip paper (think Fed Ex envelope paper), to fashion cocktail dresses. Comme des Garcons’s Rei Kawakubo has always been keen on incorporating the latest synthetics and advanced finishings into her work, and her designs often make use of sophisticated computer programs.

Yohji Yamamoto has perfected the interplay of form and function, most notably with his sportswear line, Y-3.
As designers like Yeohlee, Karl Lagerfeld, and Diesel have done in the past, Yamamoto has begun designing with high tech fabrics like washable silk and dry-cleanable mink, as well as with protective resins like Teflon.  He uses computers to replace hand beading, resulting in looks that are not only beautiful, but convenient to produce.  They are also sumptuous on the skin because of the high-tech fabrics and treatments used. 
More often, the use of high-tech fabrics is becoming a means not only to make a conceptual statement (like the un-wearable fiber glass dress or the dress that lit up, both seen in past Hussein Chalayan collections), but as a way to make clothing more appealing to consumers in a functional sense.
Technology is constantly evolving, and it’s refreshing to see designers on all levels, from the luxury houses to the sportswear and contemporary, make use of some of the fascinating tools at their disposal.